German GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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Friday at Hockenheim was the first chance we got to see the drivers out on track as free practices one and two took place. Once again, the weather was glorious as hot sunshine beat down on the tarmac, making conditions perfect for running.

Rather predictably, Mercedes dominated proceedings once again, securing a one-two finish in both sessions. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg shared top spot, and had a net time of just 0.041 seconds separating them across the two sessions. Be assured that there will be another enthralling battle between the two on CNBC this Sunday from 7:30am ET.

In the paddock, the journalists and team members were doing their best to keep cool, with the ice cream at Lotus proving to be particularly popular. No word if Kimi got around to nabbing one, though…

Here’s the latest paddock round-up from Hockenheim.

SESSION REPORTS

  • First practice at Hockenheim saw Nico Rosberg make a good start to his home grand prix weekend. The German driver edged out Lewis Hamilton at the top of the timesheets, with Fernando Alonso finishing third.
  • Hamilton redressed the balance in FP2, though, to finish fastest ahead of Rosberg and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi had a firey moment, but took inspiration from Taki Inoue to use a fire extinguisher and put out the small blaze on his car.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Firstly, I must apologise for yet another FRIC pun. However, it certainly has been a topic of debate at Hockenheim this weekend following the FIA’s decision to ban the system from the cars on the grid.

Most of the drivers we spoke to yesterday said that it would make little to no difference, but both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg appeared to notice a bit more of a detrimental difference today. Red Bull certainly looks to have made a step forwards, but we shouldn’t get too carried away: Mercedes’ long run times are still miles ahead of everyone else.

The battle for the final podium position does appear to be wide open. Red Bull is leading by a nose, but with Ferrari, McLaren and Williams all showing good signs of pace this weekend, we could see quite an interesting battle to be ‘best of the rest’. McLaren has been particularly impressive, running with parts that were due to only arrive in Hungary, and both Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen will be hoping for a solid result this weekend.

Further back, there was yet more disappointment for Caterham. One journalist in the paddock compared its recent form to that of the now-defunct HRT during its final few months of activity. Both Marcus Ericsson and Kamui Kobayashi hit trouble during FP2, with a fire on the latter’s car ending his session early.

The team principals’ press conference was a bit of a mixed bag today. Pirelli’s Paul Hembery said that the test of the 18-inch F1 tires had been a success at Silverstone last week, although he was uneasy about the possibility of a tire war in F1. Christijan Albers made his first appearance as Caterham team principal following a crazy few weeks for the backmarker team, and didn’t show a great deal of confidence in the current driver line-up. That said, it’s difficult to see who could replace either Kobayashi or Ericsson given that Carlos Sainz Jr. has been told to forget about F1 for 2014 and to instead focus on his World Series by Renault campaign.

We’ll be back with more from the paddock tomorrow.

German GP TV Times – Saturday 19th July

Free Practice 3: Live Extra 5am ET
Qualifying: CNBC 8am ET

F1 Preview: 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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The third trip to the Baku City Circuit for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix comes slightly earlier in 2018 for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Contested in June each of its first two years, the event was moved to April for 2018.

Although the circuit was initially criticized for its close quarters, its mix of tight corners and high-speed sections has produced quite a lot of action.

Last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was particularly eventful. Sebastian Vettel intentionally hit Lewis Hamilton under a Safety Car after he thought Hamilton brake-checked him, and Vettel was given a 10-second stop and go penalty. Later, the headrest of Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG Petronas W08 came loose, forcing him to make a late pit stop.

The Sahara Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon saw their budding rivalry come to blows, as they made contact while battling inside the Top 5.

Valtteri Bottas finished second after early-race contact with Kimi Raikkonen, and Bottas pipped Lance Stroll for second at the finish line. Stroll, for his part, scored his first career podium.

And, Daniel Ricciardo rebounded from an unscheduled pit stop early in the race – Red Bull Racing had to clear debris out of the brake scoops due to overheating – to take a stunning victory that featured a remarkable three-wide pass on Stroll, Felipe Massa, and Nico Hulkenberg. Highlights of last year’s race can be seen here.

Will this year’s race produce as many thrills? Talking points ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix are below.

Hamilton Seeks First Baku Podium, and First Win of 2018

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The first two trips to Baku have not been kind to four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. His 2016 outing was fairly unremarkable by his standards, as he finished fifth after qualifying tenth.

The 2017 event might have been a victory for him if not for the aforementioned problems with Vettel and a loose headrest. Alas, he again finished fifth.

It’s hard to believe that Hamilton does not have a victory through the first three races of 2018. Combine that with his desire to erase the bad memories of Baku from 2016 and 2017, and the Briton will be extra motivated to stand on the top step of the podium.

Red Bull Looks to Keep Momentum

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Red Bull Racing is riding high after the Chinese Grand Prix, when Daniel Ricciardo took a shock win due to tire strategy following a Safety Car.

And the Baku circuit is one that Ricciardo likes, and not just because of last year’s victory, but also because it presents a lot of chances for overtaking.

“Baku is different to other street circuits – because there are places where you can pass,” Ricciardo asserted in a preview on Formula1.com. “Actually, lots of places where you can pass. As opposed to Monaco and Singapore where there’s not many places to overtake really.”

He added that the track’s combination of high-speeds and tight corners put a premium on getting your braking points exactly right, otherwise the track will bite you.

“The trickiest thing in Baku is braking. There’s so many braking points where you have to commit and you have to brake as late as you can – but there’s no room for error,” he detailed. “Once you’ve committed to that braking point, if you’ve locked a wheel, you’re in the wall. I’d say the hardest part about Baku is finding the limit with braking, and just having that confidence.”

Teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, looks to rebound after again catching the ire of many rivals and onlookers for his contact with Sebastian Vettel in China. Further, Verstappen looks to avenge last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which he dropped out following a power unit failure.

“Last year was a very unfortunate weekend for me. It was a shame because the car felt really good but I encountered a lot of problems which ultimately meant I missed out on a potential podium, perhaps even a win. I’m hoping this year I can make up for that lost opportunity,” said Verstappen in the aforementioned preview piece.

Ferrari Looks to Reclaim Dominance After China Hiccup

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

After winning the opening rounds at Australia and Bahrain with Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari had their first hiccup of 2018 in China, when a Safety Car butchered their tire strategy and left them vulnerable when others, chiefly Ricciardo and Verstappen, pitted for new tires.

Vettel was relegated to eighth after spinning following contact with Verstappen, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished third, his second podium in three races to start 2018.

Baku was one of the races from 2017 in which Vettel drew criticism for his on-track antics – see the aforementioned collision with Hamilton – and he’ll hope to get back on the podium to avenge both his struggles from China and from last year’s Baku outing.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, will look to get back to his winning ways for the first time since 2013.

Misc.

  • McLaren F1 Team sits a much-improved fourth in the constructor’s championship on the strength of two double-points finishes, with Fernando Alonso leading the way. Alonso has finishes of fifth, seventh, and seventh after three races, while Stoffel Vandoorne has points finishes of ninth and eighth to his name so far.
  • Sahara Force India still only has one points finish in 2018 – Esteban Ocon’s tenth in Bahrain. It’s hard to believe how far this team has fallen, even if the midfield is jammed with ultra competitive teams. That they have been off the pace to start 2018 is genuinely surprising.
  • Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team have been the strongest of the midfield teams so far, along with McLaren, and they should contend once again for points this weekend.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix rolls off at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday.

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